“Hotline” communication channels or Direct Communications Links (DCLs) have the potential to serve limited but important crisis management and confidence building functions in East Asia’s increasingly tense maritime security environment. Their primary purpose is to provide a secure communications channel between national command authorities for clarifying intentions in near real time in order to prevent unintended military conflict, especially where territory is actively in dispute. This has clear policy relevance given East Asia’s maritime geography, the existence of overlapping sovereignty and boundary claims, and the rising tide of incidents at sea and in the airspace above. This pertains not only to armed forces but extends to paramilitary and civilian law enforcement vessels and aircraft.
While the patchy record of hotline utilisation across East Asia suggests that they are of questionable effectiveness in a crisis, policy interest in hotlines within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and between China and its maritime neighbours is growing. This apparently “niche” subject should be of wider interest to observers and theorists of East Asian security. Differing national approaches towards hotllnes are revealing of broader strategic behaviour and basic notions of ,..trust”, as well as marked disparities in national capacity and intra governmental coordination.
Beyond a basic maritime commonality, there is no set crisis communication template for the region. Differing strategic cultures and threat perceptions demand flexible modalities. In spite of rising policy interest, hotlines are not a panacea for crisis management. They are communication tools which optimally provide decision-makers with a fail safe channel to send or receive messages of re-assurance against unintended military escalation.
Conflict and Stability / East Asia and Asia Pacific / International Politics and Security / Maritime Security / Policy Reports
Last updated on 24/08/2015